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Boyhood (2014)

by The Movie Diorama

Boyhood organically condenses twelve years of upbringing into an undramatic three-hour behemoth. The journey of adolescence is one personality-altering experience that each of us inevitably undertakes. An existential life step that physically and personably transforms our very bodies, from innocent child to independent adult. Parents forced to release their protective talons and enable their children to venture out into the harsh world, justifiably falling down the pitfalls of life and picking themselves back up again. But what’s the point of it all? We grow up. We attend school. We work. We live, love and lie. Only to see ourselves never progress on a personal level. Life is valuable. It is a finite amount of time that rapidly ticks by at the rate to which we grow older. It can often be disillusioning, but most importantly, it can be special. It’s up to us to make the most out of the limited time bestowed upon us.

Linklater’s sprawling coming-of-age epic is a technical masterclass in ingenuity. Depicting the adolescence of a young boy growing up in Texas with his divorced parents. Logistically, literarily and lovingly, Linklater opted for the innovative concept of filming in real-time. The actors physically growing with their characters, with the ability to add personal experiences to the narrative. This ambitious depiction of maturing is subconsciously organic, and proved to be an effective method in illustrating adolescence. It kept the casting limited, without having to obtain multiples actors for the same character at different stages of childhood, and exhumed a sense of natural intuition.

That being said, this meticulous construct of film-making unfortunately facilitated a mellow story that lacked any drama or emotional depth. Coming-of-age dramas work effectively when depicting one specific year that dares to dramatically endeavour into relatability. The issue with Boyhood is that, due to its extensive duration of narrational time, several aspects were emotionally subdued. For example, Mason experimenting with alcohol and recreational substances. Linklater failed to dig into the emotional conflict that lead Mason down that path, merely likening the character to an empty shell. Another example, Bill drunkenly assaulting Olivia. Again, this case of domestic abuse is only touched upon before Linklater moves on with Mason’s life.

Boyhood is essentially a montage of fictitious memories. Good and bad. It’s all part of growing up. But does that necessarily result in an entertaining or emotionally captivating film? For me, it’s a hesitant “no”. Sure, there will be scenes that are relatable to your own upbringing and therefore engage you momentarily. Personally, I warmed to the scenes involving Hawke’s fatherly figure and his attempt to rekindle with his children. Growing up with divorced parents, Linklater’s dialogue was incredibly realistic and related to my own life. But as I said, he then quickly moves on with the narrative and the emotionality is diminished yet again. Hawke and Arquette offer their intense acting styles to spice up the narrative, however Coltrane and Linklater’s own daughter rarely displayed variety. The plot’s structure itself commenced with nostalgic-fuelled simplicity (GameBoy Advance SP, DragonBall Z, Coldplay’s “Yellow” etc.) and then ending on philosophical existentialism, which I suppose merged adequately with Mason’s advancing frame of mind.

Yet I cannot shake the feeling of disappointment. Linklater took no risks with the story. Limited emotional depth. Boyhood, for all its technical ingenuity, remained hollow. “One of the greatest films of the decade”? I’m not convinced, yet I appreciate the innovation behind the lacklustre story.